Ironman Boulder :: Race Report

Mobb Rider Bradford S. is an animal. He does events that force you to swim, run and ride really far distances. Check his report on his epic trip to Boulder for the brutality that is Ironman.

Ironman Boulder is a triathlon under the Ironman brand. It is an ultra-distance race composed of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run totaling 140.6 miles. I raced last year with a friend and we decided to come back in 2018, shooting for a little bit better finishing times and to settle a bit of a friendly rivalry. The reality of this year's race was nothing compared to what either of us expected. There was also a lot more to this trip than just the race. This year was tough and it has taken a while to write this. What a great trip though!

This year presented some challenges for my friend and me (work schedules, injuries and the weather) that made us question whether or not running this race was even a good idea. Over many conversations, it became apparent that we were both too stubborn (stupid??) to back out, so with a plane ticket already booked and our registrations daring us to come back, we prepared as best we could.

Before getting to the race itself, I had about 5 days to enjoy this beautiful city at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Some sight-seeing was pretty much a necessity. Boulder is a fantastic city with beautiful mountain views no matter where you are. The trailhead to the Flatirons is right off of Baseline Rd, just outside of downtown.

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Continuing down Baseline will shortly drop you onto Flagstaff Rd which is a fun, roughly 3 mile winding climb to the summit. The road switches back a number of times and consists of various grades from the gradual straight away to short and punchy around the corners. The view from the top was serene.

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The remaining days were spent with short runs in the local park and some swimming in the reservoir. Luckily we were able to get in the water as this was our only open water swim, prior to race day. Needless to say, I'm grateful for indoor pools! The Boulder Reservoir is a pretty shallow (<20ft, to my understanding) 700 acre recreation and water storage facility for Northern Colorado. On a calm day it is absolutely amazing to swim; however, on a windy day like last year's race, it can get a bit choppy. With temperatures in the 90’s we took full advantage of the 71° degree water.

The swim is nice and simple. You enter the water at the boat ramps, swim in a giant 2.4 mile triangle and exit about 100 yards from where you started. To keep us on our toes, there were some changes to the bike and run course this year. In the past this race operated with 2 transition areas, T1 at the reservoir, exiting the water to mount your bike, and T2 at Boulder High School, where you would rack your bike and begin a 2 lap run along the multi-use trail. In 2018 we saw a combined T1/T2 at the reservoir with modified bike and run courses due to permitting and logistics issues. Totally understandable. Shutting down large sections of roads isn't always feasible. Studying the cue sheet and maps were a necessity, for the bike course in particular. The 112 mile route held 3 U-turns per lap and a halfway point that caused a great deal of confusion for a number of athletes. The 26.2 mile run course began at the reservoir and took us south into Boulder via 5 miles of roads and then onto the local multi use trail. The course is set up as a “Y” with 4 U-turns (one of which is made twice) and the “Flux Capacitor” at the convergence of the 3 legs. A large section of this trail is run right next to Boulder Creek. A gorgeous and fast moving, cold water creek. The chill from the water makes the atmosphere next to the creek very pleasant to run along.

 One of the more calm sections, riding to Flagstaff Rd.

One of the more calm sections, riding to Flagstaff Rd.

Race day is approaching. Checking in Thursday, getting our wristbands and transition bags. Friday: a run, packing transition bags (quadruple checked) and the opening ceremony, complete with food, music, a lot of inspirational athlete stories and Mike Reilly (the voice of Ironman) being inducted into the USA Triathlon hall of fame.

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Saturday we visit the expo for the athlete briefing and take a preview of the run course on our bikes, discovering the first 8 miles, or so, will be pretty rough. Very little shade. At the briefing we are told they will have iced towels and plenty of ice to help cope with the heat. Thank you! After getting the bikes checked in and racked, and dropping transition bags, which were checked three more times to be safe, we hit the water to relax a bit. Anything to prepare for that 3am wake-up.

Race Day! I usually can't sleep the night before, but had no issue this time. Waking up, feeling great, we had breakfast and hit the road. The atmosphere, like last year was a little chaotic, with athletes and families scurrying all over looking for the morning clothes bag drop-off, taking photos, warming up and getting in line for the swim start. With the water still in the very low 70’s, there is no worry about not being able to wear wet suits. Swim start is conducted as a rolling start with everyone corralling themselves into time based groups. 1:00hr-1:10, 1:10-1:20, etc. I knew I would probably be in the 1:20-1:30 group, but wanted to push a little, so I hung toward the front of this group. From the time the pros enter the water, a clock starts, allowing 2hr:20min for everyone to complete the swim.

The small starting cannon is lit off to start the pro men. Five minutes later, again for the pro women. Mike Reilly walking through the age group athletes, amping everyone up, shaking hands and wishing us a good race. Ten minutes after the women we begin to enter the water by ones and twos; for the next 30 minutes, a continuous flow of around 1600 racers.

The water is gorgeous. Barely a ripple, aside from all of the flailing swimmers. The first ¾ mile was really smooth. Then my group catches all of the people that either thought they were much faster, or just wanted more time in the water. From here on, there were a lot of bodies knocking into each other, hands and elbows to the head; all accidental, but obnoxious. I know I'm swallowing a lot of water. Past the halfway point and the water is still beautiful. We round the final turn and head back to shore. The emcee is announcing names as we exit the water and I have to take a few seconds on the ramp to get my legs back under me while unzipping the wetsuit. The wetsuit peelers did a great job of getting everyone out of their suits and moving to T1. Grabbing my bag, throwing on my helmet and stopping to get a liberal dose of sunscreen, I start to feel sick knowing it's all the water I had swallowed.

The bike course rolls us through a loop of the parking lot and out onto the main road for about a mile before hitting the first U-turn. Continuing past the reservoir on 119 up to the next U-turn and back to a right turn down N. 63rd St and jogging over to Rt. 36. There aren't really any big climbs on this course. Long, grinding, gradual climbs are seemingly everywhere, but only total ~3800ft over the 112 miles. Neva Rd is the first and has you riding directly toward the flatirons. A beautiful sight and for me an uplifting distraction. Coming off onto Rt 36 is possibly one of the worst hills on the course, but again, not awful. Once on 36 we have to ride alongside traffic. A large portion of the side of the road is coned off for the race with traffic running along beside and is working well. There were two small stretches of construction that had the race lane slim down, barely large enough for two riders, bar to bar. There were apparently instances of people passing three wide in these areas and unfortunately caused at least one wreck.

Off of 36, we turned down Nelson Rd, eventually making our way back to 36 until turning down Hygiene Rd for U-turn #3. This was one hell of a fast descent. Since I was feeling gut punched still, I took full advantage of rolling 30mph for over a mile with little to no pedaling. With the mountains dead ahead, the climb back up to 36 was, again, not awful but challenging. Especially with the heat. Looking back at the data, my bike computer recorded a 109° high at some point in the ride.

Rounding the corner onto 75th St. would bring us back to 119 where we would head back toward the reservoir and the initial turn off. At this intersection there were no less than 5 volunteers yelling directions to the athletes, standing next to signs and tape on the road pointing which way to go. “This way to mile 56/start lap 2”, “this way to mile 70”. There were a lot of DQ’s even with all of this. Was it perfect? No. It's our responsibility to know the course, though. Don't get mad and yell at the volunteers!

Lap 2: Repeat.

Feeling better and able to drink and finally eat, but behind on both, I was able to pace a little better, until mile 91. Just after the final U-turn I had to stop for the 3rd time, this time thankfully in the shade. Pouring a bottle of water down my back, drinking another, eating more food and chatting with others who had stopped was a great way to ignore the heat for a few minutes. Replacing all of the bottles on my bike, I set off for the final 20 miles.

As we rolled back into the reservoir we were greeted by bike catchers, a huge crowd and my friend’s wife, all with words of encouragement. The guy that came in with me shouts “Anyone want to buy a bike?” Laughs...it's the little things.

After spending 15 minutes in transition still trying to settle my stomach, a group of us set off for the run. Volunteers are handing out iced towels which we all wrap around our necks or tuck in our hats. 11 minute miles are all I want! The first 4 miles were really rough and exposed but a brief reprieve in the shade for a hundred yards felt amazing. The next 4 miles were seemingly very exposed as well and at roughly 3pm, there is no sign of it cooling down. Even still, the atmosphere around the course is fantastic. We're all miserable in the heat but push each other to keep going. The volunteers are taking fantastic care of everyone. Three other athletes from Cleveland are in the race and we pass by with greetings, encouragement and high fives. Diana Woolfe is on the run course in her turnout gear to raise awareness for PTSD, with Natalie, also from Cleveland Tri Club as her support. Mad props to them for going the full distance! You guys are awesome!

Starting to walk and feeling terrible again at mile 11, I started to think about turning in my bib and calling it a day...but I'm basically half way through the run. Take it mile by mile. The spectators are all amazing, volunteers running all over taking care of people, checking on them and getting food or water. In the end, after wanting to quit a few more times and walking about 8 miles, coming down the finish chute is an unbeatable feeling. This race is over. What started as wanting to improve on last year turned into a stubborn desire to stumble across the line. Finding friends, getting food and sitting against a tree feels fantastic and I can’t wait to fall asleep. With a total time of 14:44:04, I can’t say I’m thrilled with my finishing time, but under the circumstances I am happy to have been able to cross the line.

To the volunteers who worked for days and months to coordinate and run this race, make sure everyone was safe and we all knew where we were going: I cannot thank you enough! We are all incredibly grateful that you are willing to give so much of your time for this event. To the spectators, thank you all for coming out to cheer on family and friends, or just to have an excuse to sit outside drinking! The signs and the spirit you all bring to the course is awesome! Thank you also, to the directors and volunteer chairs for all of your work to make this thing happen in the first place. And the athletes. Stepping up to that start line is no easy task. Congratulations to everyone that showed up and gave it everything they had. This was a brutal race and whether or not you made it to the finish, be proud of what you accomplished!